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October 1, 2007

Illinois, Georgia Tech show toughness

Each Monday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned while on the road - or things to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Here is our fifth edition after taking in the sights and sounds at South Florida, Florida, Wisconsin and Oregon.

Olin Buchanan, Rivals.com Senior National Writer
The Big 12 North is no longer inferior: In recent seasons, teams from the Big 12 South have dominated interdivision play and won the past three conference championships. But Saturday, both South Division preseason favorites were vanquished by a North Division team.

Oklahoma fell to Colorado and Texas was routed by Kansas State. Incidentally, neither Colorado nor Kansas State were picked to win the North.

Illinois is a Big Ten contender: Really. The Illini, who managed just two victories last season, already has doubled that and is 2-0 in the Big Ten after defeating Penn State on Saturday.

That was Illinois' first victory over a ranked team since 2001, when it last won the Big Ten championship.

This week's game against Wisconsin suddenly is a showdown

The son rises: So much attention has been focused on Oklahoma redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Bradford, but Colorado has a good one, too.

Cody Hawkins, the son of Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins, upstaged Bradford by throwing two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and rallying Colorado to a 27-24 victory over OU.

Steve Megargee, Rivals.com National Writer
Cal and Oregon better shore up their defenses: California had plenty of reason to celebrate after winning at Oregon for the first time in two decades. So did USC.

As well as California and Oregon have moved the ball this season, the Golden Bears' 31-24 victory over the Ducks revealed that neither team has a defense strong enough to unseat USC for the Pac-10 title.

Oregon and California combined for 897 yards of total offense. California now ranks 70th and Oregon is 76th in the nation in total defense. USC is 15th in the nation in that category.

Although USC must travel to California and Oregon this season, the biggest threat to the reign of Troy might be a different team that also plays host to the Trojans this season.

Undefeated Arizona State has allowed just 13 points per game to rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense.

The ACC is better than we thought: We ripped the Atlantic Coast Conference a few weeks ago after league members lost four of their first five nonconference games against BCS-league schools, so it's only fair to point out that the ACC has since redeemed itself.

ACC schools won three of their four nonconference games against BCS teams Saturday to improve their season-long record in such matchups to 7-7.

Maryland stunned Rutgers, Florida State knocked off Alabama and Virginia trounced Pittsburgh. While Boston College is the ACC's only remaining unbeaten team, the league has proved over the past three weeks that it has bounced back from a disappointing 2006 season in which it went 6-16 in nonconference games against BCS schools.

Never underestimate the strength of a desperate team: Few teams in the country needed a victory as badly as Georgia Tech, which had opened its conference schedule with two consecutive losses.

That might explain the Yellow Jackets' 13-3 victory over Clemson.

The victory itself wasn't all that shocking. The surprise came in how easily Georgia Tech handled Clemson's running game. James Davis and C.J. Spiller combined to rush for 332 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-7 rout of Georgia Tech last year. That duo gained a total of 62 yards and failed to reach the end zone in the rematch.

David Fox, Rivals.com National Writer
USC is not so invincible: And the pollsters agree. USC lost its No. 1 ranking in the AP poll to LSU with 11 voters changing their picks from the Trojans to the Tigers. Tough crowd, considering USC beat a conference opponent on the road. But a quick look at USC shows the Trojans still have work to do.

USC committed 16 penalties, threw two interceptions, missed a field goal and had a punt blocked but still escaped Washington with a 27-24 win.

Making matters worse were injuries to center Kristofer O'Dowd and guard Chilo Rachal. But Stafon Johnson and Chauncey Washington still ran for at least 100 yards each. Pete Carroll called it a "horrible night."

Washington QB Jake Locker is having some growing pains: Locker led the Huskies to wins over Syracuse and Boise State in his first two career starts, but the bar may have been set a little too high for the remainder of the season.

Remember, Locker is just a redshirt freshman and he's navigating the toughest schedule in the country. He'll one day be one of the country's finest quarterbacks, but that day wasn't Saturday against USC.

He wasn't sharp against the Trojans, going just 12 of 27 for 83 yards with an interception. He ran for two touchdowns but missed three open receivers in or near the end zone. He never really recovered after taking a hit under the chin from USC cornerback Shareece Wright in the first quarter.

Notre Dame may have rushed Jimmy Clausen: Notre Dame has a long list of problems, so changing the starting quarterback isn't going to fix all of them. But you have to wonder how the Irish would have fared with junior Evan Sharpley under center rather than true freshman Jimmy Clausen.

The Irish offense showed signs of life against Purdue when Sharpley entered the game to pass for 208 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

It's tricky starting true freshman as early as Clausen has played.

Arkansas started Mitch Mustain in the second game last season, and he won his first eight starts. At the same time, Georgia true freshman Matthew Stafford made his first start in the third game of last season and struggled early. Both had better supporting casts than Clausen.

Notre Dame may have saved itself some embarrassment by going to the veteran Sharpley.

Mike Huguenin, Rivals.com College Sports Editor
Florida needs to find another running threat: QB Tim Tebow carried the rushing load for the Gators in their first four games, and UF coaches didn't seem to trust anyone else to run the ball Saturday against Auburn.

It cost the Gators.

Coaches have talked about junior Kestahn Moore being good enough to be the feature back. Was that just hot air? The Gators' first two SEC opponents were Tennessee and Ole Miss, teams without good defenses.

The Gators are going to see more defenses like Auburn's the rest of the way.

The Big East race is going to be a good one: For the most part, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia were considered the preseason favorites in the Big East.

Well, the Cardinals and Mountaineers already have conference losses, and the Scarlet Knights - while yet to play a league game - were beaten at home by a Maryland team that likely will finish in the middle-of-the pack in the ACC.

As bad as Louisville has played defensively, don't count out the Cards in the league race.

Colt Brennan isn't a Heisman contender any more: Brennan missed Hawaii's win last week over I-AA Charleston Southern, then threw five interceptions in a win over Idaho. Folks, guys who throw five picks vs. Idaho don't deserve Heisman consideration.

Gerry Ahern, Yahoo! Sports Senior Editor
Wisconsin weapon: TE Travis Beckum can be a difference-maker and gives opposing defenses an additional thing to think about other than TB P.J. Hill and the Badgers' potent ground attack.

Beckum caught 10 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's win over Michigan State, capitalizing on single coverage. Now if he could just play defense for Bret Bielema's bunch.

Same old Spartans? The word was that Michigan State was going to be more disciplined under first-year coach Mark Dantonio.

Sparty didn't look so at times in Saturday's loss at Wisconsin, committing three big penalties on what proved to be the winning drive for the Badgers a roughing the passer, a personal foul and a defensive holding call.

There is no question that strides have been made in East Lansing - Dantonio has his lightly regarded team off to a 4-1 start. But MSU is not good enough to overcome mental errors and must find a way to reduce them.

The picture on Painter: Purdue QB Curtis Painter has the Boilermakers out of the gate at 5-0. He has thrown for 1,582 yards and 18 touchdowns with just three interceptions. But with Ohio State and its dominant defense visiting West Lafayette, Ind., this Saturday, we'll have a better barometer of just how good Painter really is.

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